Unsupported browser

For a better experience please update your browser to its latest version.

Your browser appears to have cookies disabled. For the best experience of this website, please enable cookies in your browser

We'll assume we have your consent to use cookies, for example so you won't need to log in each time you visit our site.
Learn more

MP slams architects’ ‘misery porn’ Grenfell Tower memorial concept

  • 4 Comments

Kensington MP Emma Dent Coad has criticised an architectural firm for its ‘macabre’ proposals to clad the remains of Grenfell Tower in black concrete as a memorial to the victims of the fire

JAA Studio recently released a set of visualisations as part of a discussion piece about the site’s future, reimagining the burnt-out west London high-rise encased in a ’sarcophagus’ of 224 black concrete panels.

The concept includes a beacon in flat 16, where the blaze started, which would light up at night as ’a quiet nightly narrator’ of the tragedy, as well as a public rooftop garden and a community centre.

The proposal is accompanied by a provocative essay by academic Kevin Rhowbottom and a statement by JAA Studio (see attached) which calls for a work of civic memory offering a ‘different perspective’ on the building’s future.

It said: ’This project does not claim to be the answer to the difficult conditions found in the aftermath of Grenfell, but instead offers an alternative way of thinking about the site (and others similar) and its new-found sanctity through disaster.

’If we build over these individual spaces borne out of tragedy we will forget over time. And the city needs its scars; the city needs to remember.’

But Dent Coad, the local MP for Kensington and Chelsea said JAA Studio’s proposals would turn the tower into a ’misery porn theme park’.

’First, [the practice] assumes that the site, when the structure is taken down, will be developed. Where did that idea come from? Nobody has suggested that. Who would want to live on the site of the worst peacetime atrocity of our time?

’Local residents won’t allow it, the bereaved and survivors don’t want it.’

She added: ’The atrocity is but a year old. Think about those who live there. They have no wish to be reminded every day, for the benefit of others. This proposal is, frankly, macabre.’

In response to the criticism, Jenny Fleming, director at JAA, emphasised the proposal was intended as a concept but that the media had ’regurgitated the imagery’ and reinforced the ’incorrect assumption’ that their proposals were real.

’Dent Coad is therefore, unfortunately, commenting on what is a distortion of our output, under the false impression this was a ‘real’ proposal.

’We have since spoken with Grenfell United, who now understand the original work as a whole piece and how this was never intended as a real proposal for the site. We apologised for any misunderstanding caused through the mis-reporting of the piece.’

She added: ’Our hope now is that a productive conversation can develop with the residents’ wishes of course front and centre, and that, within the profession, the wider conversation continues about the state of our industry, procurement and the way we construct buildings.’

It was recently announced that the government would retain control over the Grenfell Tower site after an original plan to give responsibility back to Kensington and Chelsea council sparked outrage.

The site is expected to be turned into a memorial to the 72 people killed in the tragedy. A government document outlining the potential future uses of the Grenfell Tower site states the community will lead the decision-making process.

Ds memorial garden

Ds memorial garden

JAA Studio’s view

The still, silent, blackened shell of Grenfell was a haunting and brutally honest account of what happened, and as such very disturbing to view in the aftermath. Now over a year on, the tower is cocooned in scaffolding and tarpaulin; not as raw, not as black, covered up. 

Grenfell Tower: in Memoriam retains the existing tower’s structure and encases it within a civic-scaled sarcophagus of 224 black concrete panels. Visually, the tower will remain part of the skyline, but differentiated from the similarly scaled blocks nearby by its lack of windows and unpunctured silhouette. It stands in the city scape, part of it, but standing apart. 

At night, Flat 16 where the fire started, is illuminated amongst the mass of shadow, a small gilded beacon, a quiet nightly narrator of the tragic event. 

The rooftop is made accessible to form a memorial roof garden. A perimeter of columns topped by a canopy in pared-back black concrete as per the monolithic tower below, act as a muted backdrop to contrast to the newly planted colours and swaying wild flowers on this new 25th storey open to the sky. Stillness is formed, a true quiet space above the hustle and bustle. A place to stop. A place to reflect. A place to breathe. 

The physical proposals are somber, restrained, quiet, yet effective through their presence in the medium and distant views, how the memorial speaks to the city and to the local area. At close range however, the bottom four floors are renovated and re-purposed, made a pleasant and approachable space. These levels are extended and clad in glazing, lightweight and open, in contrast to the imposing and expressive bulk of the tower above - the scheme is not only physically present as a memorial, but also of purpose and use to the community. A new community centre is introduced, the boxing club is reinstated as well as a small permanent documentary gallery to the disaster and its victims. 

All other floors are closed off, serving no purpose other than to form the monument in the landscape. 

This project does not claim to be the answer to the difficult conditions found in the aftermath of Grenfell, but instead offers an alternative way of thinking about the site (and others similar) and its new-found sanctity through disaster. If we build over these individual spaces borne out of tragedy we will forget over time. And the city needs its scars; the city needs to remember. Because if we don’t, in the future we won’t only be discussing Ronan Point and Grenfell, but who knows how many other avoidable catastrophes.

  • 4 Comments

Related files

Readers' comments (4)

  • P Latham

    This macabre block is wrong headed. The future should hold hope and rebirth not entomb the tragedy for ever in darkness. The city, the community and the politics need the result of the enquiry before any memorial as before healing there is a public account to be settled.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • A little bit of respect and a lot of restraint would work better here.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • Phil Parker

    This is being put forward as a discussion piece. Not a firm proposal. The relatives of the deceased should have final say in what happens on the site. They should be given the opportunity to discuss this and other proposals before they are dismissed out of hand. I don’t see what it has to do with the local MP, or her majority of 20.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • In our report, The Truth about Grenfell Tower, which we published a month after the fire in July 2017, Architects for Social Housing wrote:

    ‘What the Grenfell Tower fire has exposed is that the separation between the public and private spheres in UK housing no longer exists in any qualifiable sense, and any trust we may once have had that the duties of the former are independent of the interests of the latter has no foundation in practice. From our work with council estate communities trying to save their homes, and from our own experience of living on council estate tower blocks, ASH has become increasingly interested in the potential of a third sphere of activity, which is neither public nor private. What those commentators on council estates who live – to use Andrew Gimson’s description – in their “little terraced houses” do not understand is that the most important space on a council estate does not fall into the clear distinction between private and public that terrace-dwellers cross every time they step outside their home and into the street. In seeking to recreate the street life of working-class communities, post-war council estates designed communal spaces into their architecture. These include not only the community halls in which residents meet – and which because of this are always the first part of the estate to be shut down by councils intent on demolishing it – but the internal hallways and external walkways between individual homes; the numerous landings outside lifts; the lifts themselves – where in the few seconds it takes to ascend or descend relationships with neighbours are made and maintained; and above all in the entrance halls – in many cases later additions to address the teething problems of this new form of communal living – and in which the concierge, known to every resident and therefore knowing every resident, is the presiding spirit of the estate, setting the tone for its cordiality, its fraternity and its ethos of mutual support.

    ‘All of this is unknown to the dwellers in privately-owned homes and fenced-in gardens; but it is where the collective life of a council estate takes root and grows. Most importantly, it is a space which is neither private, and therefore subject to the property or tenant rights of the individual or household, nor public, and therefore the province of the council. Rather, it is a collective space, over which no resident has rights, which none of them own, but for which they all take responsibility and share in its benefits. As the corruption of the public sphere by the private accelerates under increasingly accommodating government policy, mayoral direction and council practice, and the lives of those under the management and care of these public bodies are increasingly put at risk of eviction, homelessness and even death, ASH believes this third sphere, the space and activity of community, must be reclaimed.

    ‘Once the charred skeleton of Grenfell Tower is buried and the land cleared for redevelopment, it will still be in the hands of Kensington and Chelsea council. Worse still, the fire has brought about precisely that demolition of the “blight” that Grenfell Tower, in the eyes of the council and the TMO, represented, freeing up the land it stands on for the potential residual values the original masterplan for the Lancaster West estate envisaged activating through its redevelopment as ‘high end’ properties for home ownership and capital investment. Were this to come about – and under existing ownership and policy there is nothing to stop it happening – it would be the greatest betrayal of both the dead and the survivors of the Grenfell Tower fire.

    ‘To oppose this, therefore, ASH proposes that a portion of the £20 million donated by the general public – and which the government should be invited to match – be used to purchase the land on which Grenfell Tower stands and place it in Trust for the survivors and the surrounding community; and that in its place housing is built that is neither owned by the council nor run by the KCTMO, but owned by the Community Land Trust and managed by a Housing Co-operative run by the residents themselves. From the ashes of Grenfell Tower, and the forces of private greed and public corruption that burnt it to the ground, a new Community estate could rise – as a home for the homeless of Grenfell Tower, and as a model of communal housing for the hundreds of thousands of Londoners currently threatened by the programme of estate regeneration.’

    The whole report, which as of writing has been visited over 16,000 times on the ASH blog (though apparently not by the editors and journalists writing for the AJ), may be read here: https://architectsforsocialhousing.wordpress.com/2017/07/21/the-truth-about-grenfell-tower-a-report-by-architects-for-social-housing/

    Simon Elmer
    Architects for Social Housing

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

Have your say

You must sign in to make a comment

Please remember that the submission of any material is governed by our Terms and Conditions and by submitting material you confirm your agreement to these Terms and Conditions.

Links may be included in your comments but HTML is not permitted.